• Fri
  • Dec 26, 2014
  • Updated: 1:46am

Inter-Chinese race row in Vancouver over shark's fin soup

Campaigner gets big Vancouver restaurant to drop the delicacy but is then labelled a 'banana' for failing to uphold his heritage

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 November, 2012, 5:03am

The debate over shark's fin soup has descended into an inter-Chinese race row in Vancouver, with a restaurant group branding a leading anti-finning campaigner a "banana" who failed to understand his own ethnic heritage.

Vancouver City Councillor Dr Kerry Jang, who has campaigned against the controversial delicacy for six years, is savouring a major success after helping convince the city's biggest Chinese restaurant to drop shark fin from its menu last week. The 1,000-seat Vancouver Chinatown branch of the Hong Kong based Floata chain is also touted as the biggest Chinese restaurant in Canada.

Jang, a leading member of the left-leaning Vision Vancouver party, said he had seen a change in attitudes towards shark fin. "I think it's great, I see an awareness of world values there, and not just Chinese cultural values," said Jang, referring to Floata's decision. "What I really dislike is that they [supporters of shark's fin soup] are trying to wrap this issue in the flag of China."

Jang was referring to a pronounced ethnic split on the issue, not between Chinese and non-Chinese but between immigrant Chinese and Canadian-born Chinese. Jang, a professor of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia, is a third-generation Canadian.

That split was emphasised recently by David Chung, head of the BC (British Columbia) Asian Restaurant and Cafe Owners Association, who said that Jang was not equipped to represent the Chinese community, or understand the importance of shark fin to Chinese culture.

"He was born in Canada, influenced by Western culture from a young age and is totally unfamiliar with Chinese culture - unable to understand the historical relationship Chinese have had with shark fin and the innate bond we share," said Chung, owner of the Jade Seafood Restaurant in Vancouver's satellite city of Richmond.

"He is not Chinese, he is a banana. He is only doing this to get cheap political votes. Many people in our industry have already announced that we will not vote for him during the next election," said Chung in a Chinese-language interview with Ming Pao's local edition.

"Banana" is a derisory term for Westernised Chinese - yellow outside but white inside.

A manager at Jade Seafood Restaurant said that Chung was unavailable for further comment until next week.

Jang said that the debate in Vancouver had become increasingly personal. "I wasn't offended [by Chung's comments], I know where he's coming from, but as a politician I'm trying to reflect the values of the entire community. I'm trying to be a Vancouver councillor, not a Chinese councillor … in one way I took it as a compliment."

In contrast, supporters of shark fin have appealed specifically to overseas-born Chinese residents. Alice Wong, Richmond's Hong Kong-born Conservative MP in federal parliament, called a press conference in August in Chung's restaurant, tucking into shark's fin soup as she spoke out against the need for a municipal ban. But only Chinese-language reporters were invited, and it was widely decried when footage of it leaked into the mainstream English media.

"That was deliberate," said Jang of Wong's apparent exclusion of English-language reporters. "I was surprised. It was stupid … if you want to say something, say it to all."

Richmond is the most Chinese city in North America by a substantial margin, at 45 per cent, while greater Vancouver's 400,000 strong Chinese population represents 19.5 per cent of the region's total population.

Jang is campaigning for a ban on the importation and trade of shark fin, not an outright ban on possession or consumption. He cited a Mustel Group poll which suggested last year that 77 per cent of Chinese Canadians opposed the importation of shark fin to Canada.

"For a lot of mainland folks it's an issue of conspicuous consumption, to show that they can [afford it]. For some older people from Hong Kong, they are more likely to view it as a right, something they should be allowed to do," said Jang. "But if you are Canadian-born then I think you realise there are other ways to honour your guests … serve them abalone or something."

The locally based anti-shark- fin group Shark Truth is largely made up of young ethnic Chinese, including founder Claudia Li. "Floata is to be commended for their monumental decision to remove shark fin from their menu. This policy represents a socially responsible business decision that will be praised by the community," said Kevin Huang, director of campaigns at Shark Truth.


Related topics

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

I agree with Camel and personally do not think Shark Fins need to be banned. Overfishing is a chronic issue in the west too, and I'm really tired of the hypocrisy.
One man's meat is another man's poison!
Democracy would lead to the AVERAGING of many things including delicacies
No wonder democracy is termed majority tyranny.
We could compare this with the Korean of championing eating dogs
I am not a big fan of Shark Fin Soup, but it is hypercritical to say Shark Fin is forbidden but we still can eat lobster, crabs and all other fishes in the sea, as many kinds are as well on the brink of extinction due to overfishing etc. You need to come up with real arguments why shark fin should be banned.
The main claim of the anti shark fin lobby is that the shark will be thrown back to the sea once their fin is cut off. I heard from people of this industry that these acts are done by a minority of fisher and most of the time the whole shark will be processed and nothing is thrown back into the sea. Personally, if there is shark fin soup on the menu or not is not important for me as a Chinese. Nowadays we can eat a lot and are not relying on Shark Fin to exist.
The reason shark fin should be banned is that the fishermen who collect the shark fin usually only remove the fin then release the shark back into the water to die. This is widely practiced because it is much more profitable to only transport the shark fins rather than the entire shark. The rest of the shark holds little value to these fishing boats so they are discarded, still alive, after the fin is removed. This is awful way to treat these animals, and it leads to over fishing. If shark fin importing is banned, then there will be less shark fin on the market and less sharks will be killed. Watch the documentary Shark Water if you want to see the other side's perspective on this issue, as it follows the shark finning industry from an activist's stand point.
Only reinforces the unattractive image that in China, the people do eat anything that moves!
Good for Kerry Jang and his friends. David Chung has an unattractive, hidebound mentality. He is a poor advertisement for a culture frequently seen as self centred, arrogant and stubbornly ethno-centric. Such unwillingness to consider anything but one's own interests is the major reason the Earth's natural resources are being so rapidly depleted to the detriment of the lives of all people, including Chinese.
Presumably, Chung's philosophy extends to every endangered species and he would serve up the corpse of the last Tiger in his restaurant.


SCMP.com Account